What is Girl Talk?

During the Open Everything event I attended in April, we watched part of the file RiP!: A Remix Manifesto which featured “Girl Talk” who is labeled a “musician” by, well, lots of people.

Me? I’m not convinced he’s really a musician.

I mean, I guess I consider a musician to be someone who can play and instrument (or maybe sings) and who (may) writes songs. Perhaps I should say “original” songs.

From what I can tell, Girl Talk doesn’t play any instruments, and doesn’t sing, but just creates this audio collage out of other people’s work, with no original bits except how they are arranged.

I feel like my argument could be seen as thin, and could honestly go either way, but in seeing (part of) the film, and seeing people go nuts for Girl Talk, which bases (I believe) all of his work on the work of others, creating no original pieces of sound/music on his own, only taking from others… I’m conflicted on this.

And I know he claims “fair use” on his use of the material (that he does not compensate the original artists for) but hey, that’s the same claim the media outlet that stole my photo used. Fair use is only determined in court of law, but in my opinion, what he is doing is not fair use. Add to the fact he is making money off of the work of others, and not compensating them, and now I really don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong, as far as music goes, it’s some cool shit, but how cool would it be if it used none of the original bits from others, and we just gave Girl Talk a room full of instruments and said “go nuts”? I get the feeling it wouldn’t be the same.

Maybe I’m just old, and this new digital world scares me. I mean, when I started playing music, you had to use actual guitars, not the sound of a guitar that some legendary musician recorded 20 years ago. You had to learn how to play, and you had to practice… a lot.

A few years ago when I started to get into making music again, I played with GarageBand, and it was fun to make songs, but it didn’t feel real. I mean, clicking and dragging samples around was easy, butI didn’t get the same satisfaction I did from actually playing a guitar.

On my most recent album, I ended up using drum loops, and it was my biggest disappointment. I wish I could have played the drums on every track. If I had, I think my sense of accomplishment would have been even higher. I did manage to record all the guitars, bass, vocals, and some of the cymbals, but being able to avoid canned drum tracks would have been huge for me.

But why bother when you can click a mouse and make music, and by make, I mean arrange the music other people have created into something new.

I want to compare it to someone who calls themselves a “photographer” but doesn’t shoot photos, and only arranges the photos other people have taken (in something like Photoshop) into a collage and then calls themselves a photographer. “Digital Artist” maybe, but photographer?

But wait! I’m supposed to be some big supporter of open culture, open everything, and Creative Commons, etc… Yeah, I am, but I’m also a strong believer in the rights of the creators. Those who make art/music/whatever should be able to decide how they are used (if they haven’t given up those rights.) While so much of the old depended on artists signing away their rights to corporations, I think we can get past that. Some believe the way to do so is to break down all those old ways, and open everything up (even if the owners of the old stuff don’t want it opened up) while other believe that we should move forward, and reward those who fully support being open, and do everything in their power to be open, yet still survive as artists…

And collage? I’m a big fan of collage. I used to do a lot of collage art years and years ago, and yes, I used sources I probably shouldn’t have (“fair use” right?) but I also didn’t publish to a worldwide audience, and didn’t make any money from my artwork. So I’m fine with collage being legitimate art, be it remix/mashup, whatever.

So going back to the question of “Is Girl Talk a musician?” My vote is no. I can’t even say Girl Talk is a composer, so maybe the term would be “re-composer” or “re-arranger” or something.

But he’s still taking the work of others without proper permission, building upon it, and not compensating them, all while profiting from them, and that my friends, is a load of crap…